The Easiest Way to Order Parts: Q&A with Paul Harrison of Wolseley

Ready to skyrocket your efficiency, save time and hassle, and make your customers happy—by ordering parts online?

In a recent interview, Infomill integration partner Commusoft spoke with Paul Harrison, eBusiness Engagement Manager at Wolseley, the world's largest specialist distributor of plumbing, heating, and cooling products. In the interview, Paul talks about their new website and the benefits of integrating with PartsArena, what online parts ordering can offer your customers over traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and more.

The Easiest Way to Order Parts: Q&A with Paul Harrison of Wolseley

We see so much business moving online. What can you offer plumbers and heating engineers who are used to buying from local brick-and-mortar branches who now want to start ordering parts online?

Paul Harrison: The key is making it easy for the customer, by giving them the choice of channels to do business with us, where and when they want to. The limitation with brick-and-mortar is that the stores are only typically open between 7:30 am and 5pm Monday to Friday, and a selection of stores are open Saturday morning. However, increasingly customers want more from their suppliers and for them to be available longer. Dealing with us online gives customers the opportunity to do so, across any devices 24/7.

Customers can check live stock availability and product lead times on over 50,000 products at any of our branches nationwide. This lets customers plan their jobs easily and in the most efficient way. Allowing customers to check stock before they travel means they don’t hear, "I'm really sorry...we haven't got that part available today", because if one branch is out of stock, they can instantly see which branches do have the part available. This is especially handy for customers when they're in urgent need of a part the same day.

Our trade account customers see their own personalised trade prices when they're logged in to That’s the same price they'd get in branch or if they called our customer support centre.

Finally, we've got loads of handy online tools available to our customers that make product selection simple. These include a shower selector, radiator selector, and refrigeration selector—plus customers have access to PartsArena, the industry leading parts identification tool from Infomill, across all their devices.

What kind of control do customers have over their account when they use online parts suppliers like Wolseley?

Paul Harrison: Our customers can manage their account online. So, for example, they can view the real-time status of every order, whether it was ordered online, in branch, or through our customer support centre. They can also view their quotes, trade account balance, invoices, credits, and electronic proof of deliveries. 

To help our customers maximise control of their business, we offer the ability to set up authorisation limits and user permissions. This means the account administrator can approve or reject orders already placed by other colleagues, before they are fully processed. Our larger customers really value this. 

What's the biggest challenge to get plumbers and heating engineers to order online?

Paul Harrison: Online is already the channel of choice with the new digital generation of customers, and adoption is accelerating rapidly with our traditional customers too. The plumbing and heating industry is very traditional, and many customers have been used to doing business with us through our branch network for so many years. Our customers really value our branch and sales teams, and with online ordering our customers still retain the relationship with their local branch or sales manager.

Our branch and sales teams ‘sell’ the benefits of online to our customers and demonstrate how much time, money, and hassle they can save. This is especially true on the high volume, repetitive tasks that take up so much valuable time and resources. Every customer has their 'go to' products, which they order constantly—all of them can be accessed in handy personalised lists and slow, manual processes can be automated. This really helps customers realise how online is simply better business by making them more efficient. Once they see the benefits, they're on board.

It's not always smooth sailing when people are new to ordering online. How do you help plumbers and heating engineers learn how to use your website?

Paul Harrison: Our new site has been designed to make it easy for customers to access help and support when they need it, all through a handy 'Help' button. We've created a suite of pages that showcase the features and benefits of our website, which include simple, downloadable how-to guides. This helps customers get started straightaway. From desktop, tablet, or mobile our customers can access live chat to our dedicated online support team, who are available 7 days a week. This has been hugely popular with our customers—they really like it.

Plus, our eBusiness team supports our branch and sales teams so they can keep our customers up-to-date with the latest online developments and news. The team also works with our customers directly face-to-face, to demonstrate and bring to life the benefits online offers, explain how it will work for their business, or simply help them get set up so they can get started.

Do you see a lot of offline parts suppliers moving online in this way? 

Paul Harrison: Absolutely. We’ve seen in our personal lives the way online has revolutionised the way we now buy our groceries, holidays, gifts, and clothes. In many instances, online is our channel of choice for these purchases. I think everybody within our industry now has a web presence of some description, though not all have a transactional website yet. Therefore, many of our competitors are working to enhance their online proposition.

What are the advantages of choosing suppliers that have integrations with field service workflow management solutions?

Paul Harrison: It’s completely seamless for the customer and makes managing many complex workflows simple. Procurement is only one part of it, and that's the part we play; however, many customers need a lot more. For example, the ability to schedule their engineers.

When a plumber or a heating engineer is using a parts supplier website versus a brick-and-mortar store, what differences do their end customers see?

Paul Harrison: Let's say a heating engineer is in a customer’s house making a repair and they find they need to order new parts for the boiler. Using their mobile device, they can log in to and use PartsArena to identify the parts they need. Then they can seamlessly view live stock availability in their local branch and their trade account prices for the parts. That means they can tell their customer, there and then, how much the job's going to cost and when they can fix it. That’s a massive win for the end customer. Plus, the customer is more likely to accept the job immediately, which is great for the heating engineer’s business. Once the customer has accepted the job, the heating engineer can then immediately place the order with us for collection or delivery.

What are your top tips for plumbers and heating engineers on how to choose the right supplier for their field service business?

Paul Harrison: From my experience, customers value the specialist know-how our branch and sales teams provide. They really understand the customer’s world and can offer essential specialist help and advice. Our customers rely on us to get their jobs done. We need to get the right products to the right people, in the right place at the right time. And the final bit is making it easy for our customers to do business with us.

Read the original interview here.